The swan song of Small Faces

By Sergio Ariza

Great Britain in the mid-60s was a hotbed of great bands that led the famous ‘Brit Invasion’ on the American charts captained by the Beatles, we can also add the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and The Who to complete the marvellous poker full-house of the main bands, followed by an endless number of remarkable ones like the Animals, the Yardbirds, the Pretty Things, The Hollies, the Zombies, Them, the Searchers, the Creation, Manfred Mann, The Spencer Davis Group.... But, if I could choose a band to complete the full-house, without a doubt, I would pick the Small Faces, of Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, and their main winning card would be this record, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, which didn’t get the merit it deserved, being one of the best albums of the 60s, and one of the best examples of British psychedelia.  

Despite having released a great record in 1967 after signing with Immediate Records, the Small Faces were mainly known as a band of singles, with anthems like All or Nothing, Itchycoo Park and Tin Soldier, so in early 1968, they shut themselves in the studio with the intention of recording a record to the standards of the sign of the times which began with the appearance of Sgt. Pepper’s. They would achieve this with great acclaim, producing a masterpiece divided in two parts, the first with 6 of their best songs, and the second in which they would launch the birth of rock operas.     

So let’s take it one step at a time, the first side opens with the title song, an instrumental that was ahead of the Charlatans by 20 years, then comes the unstoppable Afterglow of Your Love,  with an acoustic intro that gives way to the volcanic eruption of the rest of the band, led on organ by Ian McLagan, and drummer Kenny Jones, then Marriott’s voice joins in and you can see there were very few singers better than him. McLagan was who wrote and sang Long Agos and Worlds Apart, then Marriott took his first flirtation with ‘music hall’ and his Cockney accent in Rene. Then it’s Lane’s turn with Song of a Baker, written by him and the best downpayment of the future they would have had to continue together. It’s an unstoppable hard rock number, sung by Lane with a volcanic Marriott joining him on the chorus, besides being his best guitar moment in the band’s history, with, probably, his favourite guitar at the time, a Telecaster Sunburst fitted with a P90 in the neck. The first side closes with one of their most popular songs, Lazy Sunday, an irresistible joke by Marriott, sung anew in his best ‘cockney’ accent, in which he speaks of his troubles with his neighbours. The label released it without their consent as a single, making it one of their best hits, but neither Marriott nor the band were very satisfied with its selection to represent the album.       

As for the second side, before Tommy went to the mirror, and before Ziggy played his guitar, and even before S.F. Sorrow was born (a record by the Pretty Things that wouldn’t see light until December 1968), Small Faces started the fashion of rock operas with the story of Happiness Stan and his quest for the lost side of the moon. The songs are sprinkled with spoken bits by Stanley Unwin, telling the story. It’s a rather silly story (not that Tommy was Shakespeare) but fun, and leans on great songs to support it, like the rocker Rollin’ Over (which Brian May would cover in the early 90s), the psychedelic The Hungry Intruder and the folkie Mad John, where Marriott lights up his Epiphone Hummingbird (if we can rely on TV images he appeared in), right to the optimistic finale with the ’music hall’ style of HappyDaysToyTown.       


The album appeared in the stores on May 24, 1968 and the band introduced it on the programme Colour Me Pop on June 21st, playing (in play-back) the entire second side, plus Song of a Baker, and a video of Lazy Sunday. Two days later it climbed to the top of the British album charts, where it would remain for 6 consecutive weeks until August 4th. It would seem that the band had made it but, despite their recording other material, one could also see Ogdens’ as the swan song of the band, its final farewell in style.  

Shortly after, Marriott would jump ship, tired of the soft image the band had, and left with his young protegé Peter Frampton, whom he had tried to get in the band as second guitarist, to form Humble Pie. As for the band, the remaining trio would sign Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood to fill the enormous gap left by Marriott, they would take out the Small and become the Faces. Two great bands that put out great songs and fine albums in the late 60s and early 70s. Yet, none of them, to be sure, would ever be able to get over this wonderful record.